An open letter to beauty companies on how to level up when it comes to inclusion
Suggestions on where to go from here, please and thanks
This article was originally published November 20, 2018.
Dear beauty brands, we're proud of you for finally stepping up and hearing the cries for more diversity, amplified by bloggers and influencers. Skin shade inclusivity is now mainstream. Regardless of what end of the shade spectrum we fall on, we now find it much easier to pick up a foundation that's well-suited for us!
But while this progress needs to be applauded, there's still more work to be done. We spoke to several well-known Canadian makeup artists, beauty experts and influencers for their thoughts on how you (beauty brands) can continue to level up in terms of diversity. It should be noted that we're talking specifically about makeup here, but parallels can be made for other sectors of the industry. We know that you're listening, so while you're at the drawing board, here are some suggestions to keep the inclusivity ball rolling.
More depth of shades
Almost every scroll through Instagram reveals another slew of shade expansions, one even more plentiful than the next. It's really a beautiful thing to see. The next frontier would be to make sure that you not only have the quantity of shades, but also the quality to back it up.
"Everyone is just focused on foundation shades," says beauty and lifestyle creator Aysha Abdul. "It seems to be just a numbers game, but are you really striving for the best undertones, the best matches? Or is it just about who can have the highest number [of shades]?"
In other words, how deep is your bench? Shades need to be evenly distributed on both ends of the shade spectrum from the darkest dark to the lightest light.
Fenty Beauty's 40 shade foundation undoubtedly changed the diversity game for the beauty industry.
As professional hair and makeup artist Christine Cho puts it: "It's nice that you have 40 shades, but we're still seeing 80 per cent of them skewed toward whiter tones. Maybe five are for Asian to darker tones."
Is it simply a matter of turning research now to the subtleties and nuances of as many skin tones as possible? Makeup artist Elizabeth Taylor of FacesbyPureness thinks it's a great place to start. "There are so many undertones and variations to darker skin... even oily skin and acneic skin," she says. "There's still so much more we can do in terms of the science and research behind the product offerings." Longtime makeup artist and owner of the beauty concept, Shirley Wu, who works largely with women of colour, agrees. "As part of research and development, [brands] also really need to get more educated about different cultures overall, not just the obvious," she says.
Concealers, eyeshadows and bronzers
Let's continue to aggressively integrate broad-spectrum shades across the board. The goal should now be to ensure that people, regardless of their skin tone, can find all the makeup products they need within your collection. For example, lifestyle blogger Shantel Rousseau laments that "concealers haven't caught up; they need to go in the direction that foundations have. We've [recently] seen concealer launches with only like, eight shades." There's no point in having an impressive lineup of foundation when other products like concealers and bronzers are still lagging in terms of skin inclusiveness.
"There's often a notion that brown girls can't bronze — and bronzer is actually one of my favourite products!" Abdul adds. "There are still very, very few brands that make a product deep enough for women of colour. The few brands that I respect that are doing this are Bobby Brown, Becca cosmetics and even Guerlain."
Eyeshadows have definitely come a long way but many, particularly from drugstore brands, are still problematic. Cho argues that "washed out" eyeshadow palettes, which are often too light or chalky on medium to darker skin, are still the standard. "People with lighter skin can still wear eyeshadow with higher pigments. Everybody wins when pigmentation is better… so why not let that be the standard?"
KKW Beauty was called out for having a limited concealer shade range, with many saying the model in the promotion couldn't actually use any of the shades.
More POC behind the scenes
Who better to be involved in advancing inclusivity than people who represent skin tones that you once ignored? One encouraging trend is the rise in makeup collaborations with well-known POC influencers. People like Alissa Ashley, Jackie Aina and Patrick Starrr, to name a few, have all worked closely with brands to formulate more inclusive product selections. It's something Rousseau is excited to see. "It's great when brands say, 'We recognize there's a gap; we wanna fix it. So let's pull someone who understands [these concerns] and has been advocating for this for their entire careers.'"
Above and beyond collaborations, we're hoping you can continue to hire more diverse people in positions of power in your companies. Like actress Mouna Traoré says: "Hire authentic voices to be part of the change. Not just the people running your social media… but the decision makers."
Perhaps more diverse executive teams would mean fewer missteps like Tarte's shape tape shade let-down and StyleNanda's photoshopping debacle. Digital content creators like Charmsie have called out what she sees as "false inclusion." "Sometimes I receive collaboration proposals and the verbiage is heavily geared towards women of colour — which I am, of course — and I think, Great! But then I quickly learn that the product is something that clearly isn't for me," she says, remembering shades she's been sent that have been far too dark. "This rubs me the wrong way, at times, because it's evident that there isn't enough diversity training within the brand's marketing teams or agencies they work with."
NB: You also need to create a climate in which diverse people within the company feel comfortable adding their voice to the discussion. PR professional and media personality Daniel Pillai is vocal when working with beauty brands. "I'm either the biggest person in the room in terms of size or the only ethnic person in the room," he says. "When I'm asked for my opinion, I speak up. Many people [in my position] don't feel empowered to speak up. But we have to!"
Nyx Cosmetics and Alissa Ashley's collaboration Can't Stop Won't Stop Foundation
Too Faced Cosmetics worked with influencer Jackie Aina to expand their Born This Way foundation shade range
Beauty terms and campaigns
Let's continue to make inroads when it comes to non-inclusive language that's ingrained in the beauty vernacular, too. We're looking to you to be proactive in changing terms that reflect a limited view of what's considered "normal." Case in point, a complete reimagining of the terms "nude" and "neutral." "The standard for those terms shouldn't always mean Caucasian norms," says Cho.
Thanks, CoverFX for hearing us on this.
When you lead the way, it's our hope that the ripple effect will broaden the skills and arsenal of professionals within the industry.
Traore says the standard is changing, but notes that, "for a long time it was fine or acceptable [on set] if people could only do one type of hair or one type of makeup, and usually that was for people with lighter complexions, not people who look like me."
The literal faces — and bodies — of your brands
Lastly, kudos to you for widening the scope of the people we see in your advertising campaigns and on social media. However, many, like Rousseau, believe those boundaries can be pushed even further: "Specifically, I'd love to see more Indigenous people in campaigns. Also more Afro-Latinas and deeper-toned South and East Asians."
Beauty educator Bahar Niramwalla agrees. "The conversation of diversity is still mostly specific to the colour of your skin, but doesn't often enough branch out to other aspects of what you look like," she says. "What about further diversity being represented?"
There's a lot more we can talk about, but it's clear that the beauty industry has made great strides in terms of making diversity a priority. We're excited that you're on the right track. But, by continuing to address some of the concerns mentioned above, we'll be even closer to redefining beauty and contributing to a more collective sense of belonging.
Nneka Elliott (@nnekaelliott) is a lifestyle blogger, host and actor. She shares her adventures with fashion and beauty in her pursuit of a gutsy life. nnekaelliott.com